Dublin skipper taking only the positives from frustrating league run
DUBLIN hurlers have lost three Allianz League games on the spin, their top-flight title defence is in tatters, and they’ve just been mugged by Kilkenny in a surreal plot borrowed straight from the pages of Dick Turpin. All that and yet Johnny McCaffrey, a font of positive thinking, can only look on the bright side of life.
The Sky Blues skipper is right, of course, because if you peel away the veneer of their last two defeats — to Cork and those defiantly pesky Cats — you will see that Dublin have actually found some form after a shaky seasonal start.
It’s just that they can’t buy a win right now, upping the ante for this Saturday evening’s Spring Series date with Tipperary at Croke Park (5.0).
“Absolutely — we take massive positives,” McCaffrey insists when reflecting on last weekend’s 5-16 to 6-12 scorefest in Nowlan Park.
“The only negative really from our point of view was the five goals that went in. We were very happy with our performance overall … and to score six goals against Kilkenny on any day is massive, especially when people say that we can’t score a goal.”
Not that it felt “massive” at the final whistle, after the sieve-like All-Ireland champions ambushed Dublin with goals from Richie Power and Matthew Ruth in the dying minutes.
“After being seven or eight points up at one stage, to let them come back and get the couple of goals near the end and steal the victory was heartbreaking really,” McCaffrey admits.
“You just couldn’t believe what had happened, because there was so much action going on with so many goals going in.”
The Lucan clubman has never been in a game like it before. Watching from the sanctuary of the stand left you breathless, so you can imagine how the Dublin players felt, especially having soldiered against the numerical odds for almost half-an-hour following Ryan O’Dwyer’s 43rd minute dismissal.
“You don’t literally have a moment to think,” explains McCaffrey, who hurled plenty of ball from his relocated wing-back berth.
“Everything is at 100 miles an hour … all you are looking at is the next ball coming, hoping to get it back up the other end of the pitch as quickly as you can.”
For all their toil, though, Dublin have lost by a solitary point two weeks running. Throw in their strangely subdued day-one defeat in Galway, coupled with the earlier surprise loss to Laois in the Walsh Cup, and Anthony Daly’s men have already lost one more game this season than through all of 2011.
Yet McCaffrey is adamant that confidence has not suffered “because our performances have been getting better and better”.
“Obviously the Galway game was a massive disappointment — it’s hard to put a finger on what went wrong — but since then the Cork performance was a couple of step-ups and the Kilkenny performance was a bigger step-up again.”
The (anti) climax to the Kilkenny game also contained some invaluable lessons for the losers. “When we went down (a man) initially, we gave in some bad ball that wasn’t giving our forwards any chance whatsoever,” the Dublin captain points out.
“Then we started to regroup and play it a lot smarter. And then, I suppose, when they started to push at us again near the end, we were under so much pressure that we just wanted to get rid of the ball as quickly as we could. We reverted back to route-one and that didn’t really help us.
“They are great things to have learned, though, in a situation like that – because there hasn’t been too many scenarios, thank God, where we’ve been down to 14 men.”
For now, Kilkenny has been parked. Dublin’s next opponents, Tipperary, have recovered from their own Nowlan Park disappointments with back-to-back wins. Countering that, the Blues boast an impressive recent record against the 2010 All-Ireland champs — beating them in the last two leagues, and pushing them all the way last August (All-Ireland semi-final).
“I think that’s a reflection of how we’ve been improving … we don’t really fear too many teams now,” says McCaffrey.
“I suppose the big thing about the league, playing so many games in a row, is that the game you played recently is history now. So last Sunday’s game is gone for us, it’s over, and you’re straight back on the horse again, playing Saturday night.”
You ask McCaffrey what he craves from Dublin’s remaining league involvement and the ‘R’ word — avoiding relegation — is not paramount. Rather, performance is the buzzword.
“We’re confident enough that if we can put those performances in again, results will come our way,” he stresses.
“We’d be hopeful that if you do that, we’ll get two wins in the bag.
“We can’t look out at what other teams are going to do,” concludes Dublin’s captain.
– Frank Roche – Evening Herald